GLAAD Petition: Lift Outdated Ban on Gay Blood Donors

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 25, 2020

LGBTQ equality advocacy group GLAAD has petitioned in the past for the Food and Drug Administration to lift the ban on gay blood donors. Though efforts from various advocates in the past finally did lead to a partial lifting of what was once a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, the current policy stipulates that gay men must be celibate for at least one year before donating blood.

Now, with the U.S. Surgeon General having issued a clarion call in the face of the COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) pandemic for increased donations to the nation's blood supply, GLAAD has a new petition that presses for the ban to be discarded entirely, given its antiquated - and, critics of the ban say - discriminatory underlying assumptions.

Political news outlet The Hill reports that GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis this to say in a statement released by the group:

"The FDA needs to put science above stigma.

"Gay and bisexual men ... want to give blood and should be able to contribute to help their fellow Americans."

NBC News recalled that the ban in its current form allows for gay men to donate blood, but only if they have been celibate for at least one year.

NBC News also took note of the Red Cross raising the alarm that:

2,700 blood drives had been canceled over the past month after the coronavirus began spreading across the United States. As of March 16, those cancellations had resulted in 86,000 fewer donations, potentially decimating the U.S. blood supply.

Matthew Lasky, the communications director for GLAAD, told NBC:

"We really see it as a holdover of a discriminatory policy from a time long past.

"We think that it's important to push the FDA to rethink the policy around this because it's not based in current science."

According to he Williams Institute, holding gay men to the same requirements as heterosexual men - who are not similarly required to a yearlong period of celibacy, even if they frequency sex workers - would provide an additional "600,000 pints of blood available per year," NBC News noted.

The ban is a relic from the 1980s when a panic around HIV/AIDS led many to believe that AIDS was a "gay" disease - despite the fact that the virus that causes AIDS, HIV, is an opportunistic pathogen that infects people without regard to race, politics, gender, socio-economic status, religion, or sexual orientation.

Indeed, the view that AIDS is a "gay disease," or even a "punishment" directed at non-heterosexuals by a hostile supernatural entity, ignores the fact that Africa's heterosexual population has been ravaged by the disease. Moreover, of all demographics, lesbians have the lowest rate of infection.

On the other hand, science has provided the means for testing donors and even blood supplies for infections diseases, including HIV. Modern testing techniques can identify newly-infected people less than a week after the time of their exposure to HIV, the NBC News article noted.

GLAAD's petition contains this text:

This antiquated ban is not only discriminatory but also has been debunked by leading medical organizations for years. The American Public Health Association has argued that the current ban "is not based in science but appears to be modeled after other countries' choices and fears." The American Red Cross has also spoken out against the ban, noting that "blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation."

But the FDA indicated that it has no intention of changing its policies, despite the pressing need for more blood during the COVID-19 crisis, The Hill reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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